- Kevin Seifert, NFL Nation
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I've been playing catchup on Ron Jaworski's annual preseason quarterback rankings, which began last month on "SportsCenter" and "NFL Live," while looking for the corresponding video. That's not going to happen because of NFL digital video rights, but I can now bring to you the next-best thing.
Allie Stoneberg of ESPN's communications office is posting transcriptions of Jaworski's comments on ESPN's MediaZone page. As a result, you can see that Minnesota Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder received the No. 27 overall ranking (out of 32).
That's one spot higher than last season's rankings, but I don't think it represents material change in Jaworski's assessment. After all, the No. 26 quarterback this year is the Cleveland Browns' Brandon Weeden, who will be challenged for the starting job by Jason Campbell and Brian Hoyer.
Here's a portion of Jaworski said about Ponder:
"The arrow is pointing upward as Ponder begins his third season as the Vikings starter.
"Ponder fits the profile so many are now talking about: the athletic movement quarterback who can beat you with his legs. Ponder is an opportunity runner, and he's shown the ability to burn some of the best defenses in the league.
"Ponder needs to make significant improvements as a pocket passer. Surprisingly, with Adrian Peterson in the backfield, he was not efficient off play-action. Ponder also had a tendency to be a beat late with his throws. At this point, he doesn't see the whole field with clarity and that led to too many throws into the teeth of the coverage.
"And he must execute versus the blitz much better than he did in 2012.
"You know what statistic really bothered me? Ponder had only 28 completions of 20 yards or more -- by far the fewest of any 16-game starter. I saw one in Week 17 that I really liked. It was a shot play, first-and-10 play-action out of base personnel.
"Overall, I like Ponder's skillset. He has plus arm strength with the ability to make every single throw. The Vikings have now provided Ponder with more weapons on the outside. [The 2013 season] is an important season for the third-year quarterback. It's time to play more consistently from the pocket. If Ponder does that, he could well be in my top 20 next year."
Wow! The top 20? Talk about being damned by faint praise….
Let's provide some specifics on what Jaworski referenced. Ponder threw the second-most play-action passes in the NFL last season (165), according to ESPN Stats & Information. He passed for half of his season total of touchdown passes (nine of 18) on such throws. But he also threw four interceptions and took eight sacks, finishing with an 88.2 passer rating and a 63.2 Total Quarterback Rating overall in play-action.
Both figures are above average, but to Jaworski's point, you would hope them to be sparkling considering Peterson's presence.
As we discussed last month, Ponder took a sharp turn last year that left an overall impression of a poor season. He was one of the NFL's 10 most efficient quarterbacks in the first four and final four games, but in between he was one of its worst. His most important goal for 2013, in my view, is to even out his play to give the Vikings a more reliable accounting of what he can do over the long term.
Look for the rest of the NFC North's rankings in the upcoming weeks.